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SARS Stung the Global Economy. The Coronavirus Is a Greater Menace.

In 2002, when a lethal, pneumonialike virus known as SARS emerged in China, the country’s factories were mostly churning out low-cost goods like T-shirts and sneakers for customers around the world.

Seventeen years later, another deadly virus is spreading rapidly through the world’s most populous country. But China has evolved into a principal element of the global economy, making the epidemic a substantially more potent threat to fortunes.

International companies that rely on Chinese factories to make their products and depend on Chinese consumers for sales are already warning of costly problems.

Apple, Starbucks and Ikea have temporarily closed stores in China. Shopping malls are deserted, threatening sales of Nike sneakers, Under Armour clothing and McDonald’s hamburgers. Factories making cars for General Motors and Toyota are delaying production as they wait for workers to return from the Lunar New Year holiday, which has been extended by the government to halt the spread of the virus. International airlines, including American, Delta, United, Lufthansa and British Airways, have canceled flights to China.

China’s economic growth is expected to slip this year to 5.6 percent, down from 6.1 percent last year, according to a conservative forecast from Oxford Economics that is based on the impact of the virus so far. That would, in turn, reduce global economic growth for the year by 0.2 percent, to an annual rate of 2.3 percent — the slowest pace since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Returning from a long holiday for the first time since the coronavirus’s threat became clear, Chinese investors sent shares in China down about 8 percent on Monday. Stock markets around the world have plunged in recent days as the sense takes hold that a public health crisis could morph into an economic shock.

In a sign of deepening concern, China’s leaders on Sunday outlined plans to inject fresh credit into the economy. That will include a net $22 billion to shore up money markets as well as looser borrowing terms for Chinese companies.

Though China’s factories still produce a mind-bending array of relatively simple, low-value products like clothing and plastic goods, they have long since achieved dominance in more advanced and lucrative pursuits like smartphones, computers and auto parts. The country has evolved into an essential part of the global supply chain, producing components needed by factories from Mexico to Malaysia.

China has also risen into an enormous consumer market, a nation of 1.4 billion people with a growing appetite for electronic gadgets, fashion apparel and trips to Disneyland.

The trade war waged by the Trump administration has prompted a partial decoupling of the United States and China, the two largest economies on earth. Multinational companies that have used factories in China to make their wares have sought to avoid American tariffs by shifting production to other countries — especially Vietnam. The coronavirus might accelerate that trend, at least for a time, should global companies find themselves locked out of China.

The outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, a city that is home to 11 million people, prompted the Chinese government to effectively quarantine the metropolis and much of surrounding Hubei province, barring people from moving around.

Until now, the impact on factories was limited by the fact that the outbreak was unfolding during the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year. Many businesses are closed during the holiday, while hundreds of millions of migrant workers return home to their families in the countryside.

In a bid to keep people home and halt the spread of the virus, the government extended the holiday through Sunday, adding three days. But the fear of the virus is so widespread and intense that many workers are likely to remain away from factory towns this week.

A frightening epidemic coinciding with a major holiday will almost certainly spell a substantial loss of sales for China’s tourism and hospitality industries. Hotels and restaurants that would normally be full of revelry are empty. Concerts and sporting events have been canceled. IMAX, the large screen film company based in Toronto, has postponed the release of five films it had intended to showcase in China during the holiday.

Even as the holiday officially ends, business is unlikely to return to normal. Many major industrial areas — including Shanghai, Suzhou and Guangdong province — have lengthened the holiday by at least another week, preventing workers from returning.

With flights to China limited and emergency public health restrictions in place, the Chinese operations of multinational companies are likely to be constrained. Major banks, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, are directing that employees who have visited mainland China stay home for two weeks.

General Motors last year sold more cars in China than in the United States. Its Chinese factories will be closed for at least another week at the request of the government. Ford Motor has told managers in China to work from home while its factories remain idled, said a company spokesman.

All of this could play havoc with businesses that depend on China for components, from auto factories in the American Midwest and Mexico to apparel plants in Bangladesh and Turkey.

If customers cannot buy what they need from China, Chinese factories could, in turn, slash orders for imported machinery, components and raw material — computer chips from Taiwan and South Korea, copper from Chile and Canada, factory equipment from Germany and Italy.

“This could potentially disrupt global supply chains,” said Rohini Malkani, an economist at DBRS Morningstar, a global credit rating business. “It’s too early to say how long it is going to last.”

Similar worries accompanied the outbreak of SARS in 2002 and 2003, when the virus emerged in the southern province of Guangdong before spreading across China and around the world, killing nearly 800 people in at least 17 countries.

China had just joined the World Trade Organization, gaining access to markets around the globe. It was harnessing its seemingly limitless supply of low-wage workers to produce cheap consumer goods. Its economy centered on exports. Its consumer market remained in its infancy.

In the years since, China’s annual economic output has multiplied more than eightfold, to nearly $14 trillion from $1.7 trillion, according to the World Bank. Its share of global trade has more than doubled, to 12.8 percent last year from 5.3 percent in 2003, according to Oxford Economics.

Its economic output per person has multiplied to roughly $9,000 last year from about $1,500 in 2003, giving households additional cash for an enormous range of consumer goods.

“China today accounts for about one-third of global economic growth, a larger share of global growth than from the U.S., Europe and Japan combined,” Andy Rothman, an economist at Matthews Asia, an investment fund manager, noted during recent testimony before a congressional panel.

The American semiconductor industry is particularly entrenched in China, which is both a major manufacturing hub and a market for its products. Intel’s customers in China accounted for about $20 billion in revenue in 2019, or 28 percent of its total for the year.

Qualcomm, the dominant maker of chips for mobile phones, is even more dependent on China, drawing 47 percent of its annual revenue — or nearly $12 billion — from sales in the country.

No one knows how long the coronavirus outbreak will last, how far it will spread, or how many lives it will claim. It is impossible to calculate the extent to which it will disrupt China’s economy. But China’s formidable stature in the world economy means that the impact of the current outbreak is likely to substantially exceed that of SARS.

“The knock-on effects for the global economy are going to be much larger than they were,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, a China expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

For manufacturers, the timing of the outbreak may limit the damage. They just completed the fourth quarter, when production increases to meet demand for the winter holidays. The end of January is typically slow.

But the effects of the virus on supply chains, which have grown notoriously complex, are difficult to anticipate. A single part of an advanced product like a smart TV may be made of dozens of smaller components, with each of these assembled from other pieces. Companies themselves often do not know the suppliers that are three and four rungs down the chain.

“If you run out of widgets that are essential to production processes and all those widgets come from China, then it may well be that your production lines go to a halt,” said Ben May, global economist at Oxford Economics in London. “These problems are likely to be popping up all over the world.”

This became a problem in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which devastated manufacturers. Many companies assumed they were buying parts from a diverse range of suppliers, protecting them from shortages, only to realize that critical components were produced by single plants.

If that plays out in China, the consequences are likely to be great.

“We’re talking about a potentially vast swath of a country that the whole world depends on as a manufacturing workshop,” said Susan Helper, an economist at Case Western Reserve University and the former chief economist at the Commerce Department. “The effects will be unexpected.”

Apple assembles most of its products in China. The company has severely restricted travel in China for its employees, its chief executive officer, Timothy D. Cook, said on an earnings call on Tuesday.

Apple disclosed much wider volatility in its potential revenues for the current quarter in the face of uncertainties around factory production and sales of its products.

Those uncertainties deepened on Saturday. Apple, which derives about one-sixth of its sales from China, announced that it would close its 42 stores in the country.

Walmart buys vast volumes of its products from Chinese factories while operating 430 stores in the country, including in areas shut down by quarantine. The company has reduced hours at some stores, a Walmart spokeswoman said.

“We may still be in the early stages,” of the coronavirus crisis, Judith McKenna, who runs Walmart’s International business, wrote in an internal memo on Friday.

China is the world’s largest manufacturer of toys. At the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, many Chinese suppliers expressed confidence that their factories would soon reopen, said Rick Woldenberg, chief executive of Learning Resources, a family-owned manufacturer of educational products and toys in Illinois.

“But no one’s quite sure how much of this information can be relied upon,” Mr. Woldenberg said.

Because of the trade war, the toy industry was effectively prepared for a moment in which its access to Chinese suppliers was imperiled, Mr. Woldenberg said. In December, when the Trump administration was threatening to impose an additional 15 percent tariff on Chinese imports, many toy companies sped up their orders to beat the deadline. Some shifted production to Thailand and Vietnam to avoid the tariffs altogether.

Toymakers will soon need to rebuild inventory. “If this goes on for four more months, we are talking about a big problem,” said Jim Silver, chief executive of, a consumer research site.

After SARS, China suffered several months of economic contraction and then rebounded dramatically. That might happen this time, too. The only certainty is this: Whatever happens in China will be felt widely.

“Clearly China has become a much more dominant player in the world economy,” said Mr. May of Oxford Economics. “It’s just so much more involved in the global supply chain. Over the last decade, it has been the spender of last resort for the global economy.”

Reporting was contributed by Jack Nicas, Patricia Cohen, Emily Flitter, Ian Austen, Don Clark, Michael Corkery, Julie Creswell, Neal E. Boudette and Gregory Schmidt.


NYT > Business

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Trump Administration Restricts Entry Into U.S. From China

Read about the latest developments in the coronavirus outbreak here.

Moving to counter the spreading coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration said Friday that it would bar entry by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China and put some American travelers under a quarantine as it declared a rare public health emergency.

The temporary restrictions followed announcements by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines that they would suspend air service between the United States and China for several months.

The travel disruption sent shocks through the stock market and rattled industries that depend on the flow of goods and people between the world’s two largest economies. Planning was upended for companies across a vast global supply chain, from Apple to John Deere, the tractor company.

The S&P 500 suffered its worst loss since October, falling 1.8 percent, as the spread of the virus — and the increasingly urgent efforts by companies and governments to contain it — fanned fears of an economic slowdown.

The government travel restrictions, which will take effect on Sunday evening, were announced by Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, who declared that the coronavirus posed “a public health emergency in the United States.”

The administration’s action will restrict all foreign nationals who have been to China in the past 14 days from entering the United States. The restriction does not include immediate family members of American citizens and permanent residents. Nearly three million Chinese residents traveled to the United States in 2018, according to federal data based on travel records.

The travel restrictions and the airline’s announcements showed how rapidly concerns about the virus have escalated into a grave test of the global economy, for which there is no recent precedent. Three weeks after the first virus-related death was reported, China has found itself increasingly cut off from its biggest trading partner, the United States, and many other nations.

Chinese officials said on Saturday that there had been an additional 46 deaths in the country, the most so far in a 24-hour period, raising the death toll to 259. It said confirmed infections had grown to nearly 12,000, from 1,300 a week earlier.

About 100 cases have been confirmed across 21 other countries, including seven reported cases in the United States. Russia, Italy and Britain each reported their first infections on Friday, two from each country. The four patients in Italy and Russia were Chinese citizens, the authorities there said; Britain did not release any details.

To address the outbreak, China has extended the Lunar New Year holiday, which was to have ended Thursday, into next week. In cities across the country, including those far from the center of the outbreak, there were eerie scenes Friday of all-but-empty streets and highways, closed shops, trains without passengers and nearly deserted public spaces that are normally packed.

The slowdown in activity has raised fears that essential supplies, including food, will run short, which the government insists it will not allow to happen.

And it is unclear when China’s economic engine — a huge producer of both consumer goods and industrial components — might return to anything resembling normal.

Many companies said they were relatively well positioned for the disruption, thanks in part to the recent easing of the trade tensions between China and the United States. Faced with the threat of tariffs, many companies — particularly retailers — had stocked up on imports from China, or found suppliers in other parts of Asia.

But if the restrictions in China are kept in place for many months and the virus keeps spreading, profits will suffer.

Forsake, a footwear company based in Boston, has most of its supply chain and production facility in Zhongshan in southeastern China. The company received its spring orders before the annual holiday closing and is stocked through July. After that, said Sam Barstow, the president and chief operating officer, who knows?

“We don’t really know what we’re planning for,” Mr. Barstow said.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said on an earnings call this week that many of its suppliers’ factories in China would remain closed until Feb. 10.

Apple had closed one retail store in China, and said traffic into its stores across China had decreased in recent days. Apple is frequently “deep cleaning” its stores and regularly checking the temperature of its employees there, Mr. Cook said.

The airlines are also braced for prolonged turmoil. American said all of its flights between the United States and mainland China were being suspended immediately, through March 27.

United and Delta said their flights on those routes would be suspended by next Thursday. United said it expected to resume operations on March 28, while Delta said its suspension would last through April 30. The three airlines accounted for more than a third of all travel between China and the United States in 2018.

In 2018, more than 8.5 million passengers traveled between the United States and China, according to data from the United States Transportation Department. Most flew on a handful of Chinese airlines, none of which immediately responded to requests for comment Friday on any plans to halt or modify service.

The coronavirus has already sickened more people than the outbreak of the SARS virus did in the eight-month outbreak of 2002 and 2003.

The SARS outbreak coincided with a relatively brief slowdown of global growth in early 2003, which was followed by a sharp rebound.

SARS, however, is an imperfect comparison because at the time China represented just 5 percent of the global economy. In 2019, China accounted for about 18 percent, according to JPMorgan Chase economists.

“The much larger role of China in the global economy versus 2003 implies much greater global spillover risks,” the bank wrote in a research note on Friday.

On Wednesday, the JPMorgan Chase economists cut their forecast for Chinese economic growth sharply for the first quarter to incorporate the impact of the virus. They now expect that the Chinese economy will grow at an annualized rate of 4.9 percent in the first quarter, down from the 6.3 percent pace they previously predicted.

The new forecasts reflect the expectation of sharp decelerations in retail sales, industrial production and business investment. But the forecast also calls for a strong rebound in economic activity in the second quarter, as the impact of the outbreak dissipates.

Concerns about global growth have pushed the benchmark American oil price below $52 a barrel, from more than $60 at the start of the year, and have sent the shares of energy companies lower. Tech stocks have also suffered, with particular weakness in the semiconductor sector, which is closely linked to supply chains based in and around China.

On Thursday, the State Department raised its travel advisory to Level 4 — “Do not travel” — a rating reserved for situations in which the government expects to have very limited ability to help citizens abroad. The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency because of the spreading virus, though it opposed restrictions on travel or trade with China.

Mr. Azar, the United States health secretary, and other members of a Trump administration task force emphasized on Friday that the current risk to the American public from the coronavirus was low.

But the drastic travel restriction suggested that the risks in the United States could grow quickly and unpredictably.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a Washington briefing that the actions were being taken because there were “a lot of unknowns” surrounding the virus and its transmission path. Unlike influenza, which is fairly predictable in terms of infection and mortality, Dr. Fauci said there was not the same certainty about the rate and path of the coronavirus transmission.

“The number of cases have steeply inclined with every day,” Dr. Fauci said.

In addition to the restrictions on foreign nationals traveling from China, the United States will begin funneling all flights from China to just a few airports, including Kennedy International in New York, O’Hare in Chicago and San Francisco International.

Officials said any American citizen returning to the United States from the Hubei Province in China, where the outbreak is centered, would be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Any American returning to the country who has visited the rest of mainland China within the last 14 days will undergo proactive health screening at selective ports of entry.

The government also imposed a two-week quarantine on 195 people who were evacuated on Wednesday from Wuhan, China, to a California military base.

Some public health and policy experts said the restrictions announced Friday, weeks after the virus was discovered in China, might not do as much officials hoped in containing the contagion.

At this point, sharply curtailing air travel to and from China is more of an emotional or political reaction, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The cow’s already out of the barn,” he said, ”and we’re now talking about shutting the barn door.”

Reporting was contributed by Matt Phillips, Patricia Cohen, Niraj Chokshi, Jack Nicas, Knvul Sheikh, Russell Goldman, Chris Buckley, Elaine Yu, Richard C. Paddock, Richard Perez-Peña, Elisabetta Povoledo and Jason Horowitz.